It was hot. It was cramped. It was sweaty. It was LOUD.
It was great.
Yes, the University of Dayton Arena was just like I left it -- only better.
Students scrambled in an hour before the game, the Red Scare painted up and revved up for a massive game against VCU, one that would (they could only hope at the time) decide the Atlantic 10 champion (with a Flyers win).
The pep band joined them and had things rocking right up until the opening tip.
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Well, there was a pause to recognize Dayton’s record-setting senior class, but the fans needed no help getting hyped up for Kyle Davis, Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Charles Cooke and Jeremiah Bonsu.
The love for that group was palpable from a fanbase grateful for how it has elevated the program closer to the place in the college basketball hierarchy certainly far more than the 13,000-plus in attendance have long believed it should reside.
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As I remembered from countless high school basketball tournament games (with about 12,500 fewer fans in the stands) it doesn’t take much noise for UD Arena to be loud.
Acoustics are awesome in this place.
It's deafening done right, from a student section populated by people dressed like pilots (both fighter and commercial) and troll dolls to the high rollers in the front row behind me and true believers at the highest reaches of the arena.
Multiple times in the second half, the crowd did something that shouldn’t be novel but is these days: It fired itself up. People of all ages got up out of their seats, exhorting everyone around them to do the same as VCU tried to rally.
They held their breath as a Rams three-point attempt that would have put the visitors on top in the last 20 seconds went in the air, exhaled when it bounced off the rim and roared when Davis secured the rebound and was fouled.
His first free throw, the front end of a one-and-one, hit the back of the rim, then the front, then the back again before finally falling through the net to make it a two-possession game, and 13,455 could finally start to relax.
Then it was time to celebrate that championship.
For me, the fun started well over an hour before the game. In my first trip back to the arena since an NCAA women’s basketball tournament game six years ago, I had to get there early to do some exploring.
After checking out the view from my courtside seat (which I just mention because such a premium location is no given for the media anymore), I looked up to the upper deck.
That's the last place from which I watched a Flyers game a decade or more ago (Between myself and the friend who provided the ticket, there is some dispute about exactly which game this was, but we agree Dayton upset a ranked Xavier team and fans rushed the court).
Then I did what I had to do: Trudged up to the top to see how it looks now.
Nearly 200 steps later, I was at the top, and all I could do was take it all in.
A basketball palace, huge but not too big. Lovingly loud. Perfectly cramped.
Updated with luxury boxes and jumbotrons but not lacking any of the charm it's had as long as I've been going there (I’m old enough that most, if not all, of the local high school tournament games were still played there when I was in school. Even 0-20 teams got their trip to the big city to play in that huge arena.)
And, hey, some of the seats still look vintage, too.
I'm not sure how comfortable those are, but they add to the ambience.
Not that UD Arena needs much help in that department.
And now the Flyer Faithful have a team to match.
There are no more home games for the newly-crowned A-10 champs, but it’s time to invite the basketball world back to one of the Gem City’s shiniest spots.
Bring on March.
We’re off to a flying start.